Many Hats, One Head

Updated:Nov 28,2012

Lisa Young, 36, lives in Pasadena, Md., with her husband Tim, 38, and their three children, ages 5 to 17.  In March 2003, her father, Charles Kleff, had a stroke at age 68.  The other Kleff children live out of state, and Lisa works as a licensed health aide in a local hospital, so her family turned to her for help.

"I am fortunate," says Lisa, "that financially we can afford for me to stay home and care for my dad.  We had already started to build an apartment onto our house, and three weeks before it was finished Dad had the stroke."

In addition to the stroke and high blood pressure, Charles has renal disease, which can no longer be treated since the stroke.

"I enjoy caring for my dad because it brings us closer, even though there are times when he has no idea who I am.

"My stress comes from my mom, Dorothy.  She is 60 and still works, yet I feel like she needs more than he does.  She doesn't want to quit working because of the health insurance at her job.  Between her insurance and Medicare, we haven't paid one dime for medical care, but she has renal disease, too.  Her kidney function has dropped to about 10 percent, and her doctor is considering dialysis, but she doesn't keep her doctor's appointments."

Although she helps in Charles' care, her mother has proven undependable at times and has done things that actually harm her husband: over- or under- dosing him, dropping him or feeding him inappropriate items.  And she hasn't been able to take care of the finances, which had always been Charles' responsibility.  "I've had to take over the finances," says Lisa, "and that weighs heavy on me because I feel a great deal of responsibility not to waste their money.

"For instance, it was a hard decision to send Dad to adult care because that means I'm paying somebody to take care of him, and that's what I'm supposed to do."

Food preparation is a shared responsibility, though the two families typically eat at different times because Lisa's kids are involved in sports.  Lisa bathes her dad every day and is responsible for getting him to medical appointments.

The caregiving for her father has caused her to put her career on hold.  She needs two classes before she can apply to nursing school, but she can't find time to take two classes a semester.  Lisa's oldest son Nicholas, 17, avoids being around , because he misses who his grandfather was, "but he's good about helping if I need help."

"The biggest adjustment has been not taking family trips.  We used to go on vacation with Mom and Dad, but now they can't really travel, and we can't leave them alone for even a few days.  Even if we go somewhere overnight, I leave a long list of numbers.

"I always try to look on the bright side.  For instance, I get to see my father at those moments when my pop is my pop again.  He doesn't recognize me most of the time, and he thinks my daughter Jaycie, who is five, is his oldest daughter.  As for Mom, she's getting stronger and doing things she has never done before.  My kids have learned not to take things for granted.

"And I'm flying for the first time in 17 years even though I'm afraid of flying, because I've learned not to put things off until you're old.  You never know when you're going to get a call in the middle of the night that changes everything."